Tuesday, February 13, 2007



A Reading 18-20 by Beverly Dahlen
(Instance Press, 2006)

The 3 sections of Beverly Dahlen's long poem under consideration here were composed in the 1980s. The work stands undiminished by the passage of time.

Dahlen writes through reading, but not in a facile procedural way. Her critical intelligence is fully engaged (in this case with the work of Engels, Derrida, Kristeva, Watten, among others) and all of her antennae are extended; she's a licensed Spicerean receiver with a unit right out of Jean Cocteau's Orphic radio car. But she's also self-consciously working the gap between sign and referent. She's troubled by her signifying activity:
               The desire for meaning, to produce meaning, fills me with dread and anxiety. We do not want to hear of another's anxiety; there is nothing we can do with it, nor about it. Anxiety, Freud observes, "corresponds to a libido which has been deflected from its object and has found no employment." An unappeased ghost, incessantly circling. The parodic and diminished double of all that was holy.
(page 13)

The passage just quoted speaks to the micro-darkness of an individual, the displacements felt in the act of trying to make libidinal sense of the world transparent to another, not to mention sentiments concerning absences and presence, hauntedness , and the "Eros, who never appears." A Reading wrestles too with macro-darknesses, the darknesses of our times: the darkness of death squads in El Salvador, of terrorism, of the numbing effects of the media, of the archetypal Father, and of the forced alienation of peoples from their inherited world.. Throughout the course of this poem, those dark strands of loss are braided:

mourning becomes etcetera
(page 45)

I don't have the patience or skill to describe the cumulative power of this patient, skilled and powerful work. It overwhelms me. Read it, please, and think about the ways in which a life writes itself and is written, overwritten (in multiple ways), and you will begin to be overwhelmed by its immensity too.


Tom Beckett's selected poems, Unprotected Texts is available from Meritage Press, Small Press Distribution and Amazon.com. His interview blog, e-x-c-h-a-n-g-e-v-a-l-u-e-s, is a series of poetics duets and trios which bears checking out.


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